NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 21, 2005

The idea that gentrification uproots the urban poor with higher rents, higher taxes and $4 lattes may be wrong, according to Lance Freeman, an assistant professor of urban planning at Columbia University.

In an article last month in Urban Affairs Review, Freeman reports the results of his national study of gentrification -- the movement of upscale (mostly white) settlers into rundown (mostly minority) neighborhoods.

His conclusion:

  • Gentrification drives comparatively few low-income residents from their homes.
  • Although some are forced to move by rising costs, there isn't much more displacement in gentrifying neighborhoods than in non-gentrifying ones.

In a separate study of New York City published last year, Freeman and a colleague concluded that living in a gentrifying neighborhood there actually made it less likely a poor resident would move -- a finding similar to that of a 2001 study of Boston by Duke University economist Jacob Vigdor.

Freeman and Vigdor say that although higher costs sometimes force poor residents to leave gentrifying neighborhoods, other changes -- more jobs, safer streets, better trash pickup -- encourage them to stay.

Skeptics who view gentrification merely as "hood snatching" should remember three things, say Freeman and Vigdor:

  • Many older neighborhoods have high turnover, whether they gentrify or not; Vigdor says that over five years about half of all urban residents move.
  • Such neighborhoods often have so much vacant or abandoned housing that there's no need to drive anyone out to accommodate people who want to move in.
  • Rising housing costs in gentrifying districts may ensure that poor residents who do move leave the neighborhood, rather than settle elsewhere in it; since their places usually are taken by more affluent, better educated people, the neighborhood's character and demographics change.

Source: Rick Hampson, "Studies: Gentrification a boost for everyoneResearchers say changes to poor neighborhoods encourage people to stay," USA Today, April 20, 2005; based upon Lance Freeman, "Displacement or Succession? Residential Mobility in Gentrifying Neighborhoods," Urban Affairs Review, Vol. 40, No. 4, March 2005.


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